West Nile virus vaccine developed at OHSU enters human clinical trials

Mark K. Slifka
Mark K. Slifka, Ph.D., professor and senior scientist, Division of Neuroscience, ONPRC, and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, OHSU School of Medicine

A new NIH-funded investigational vaccine to protect against West Nile Virus, discovered and developed by OHSU researchers, is entering Phase I clinical trials. The OHSU team, led by Mark Slifka, Ph.D., created the test vaccine, called HydroVax-001, with a novel hydrogen peroxide-based approach that renders the virus inactive while maintaining its integrity; an intact surface structure permits triggering of an immune response to cells infected with the virus. This preparation will allow the test vaccine to be administered to a diverse population, including those most vulnerable to the virus such as the elderly and immune-compromised individuals.

West Nile Virus first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 with 62 cases and 9 related deaths reported. It has become a significant public health concern: 41,762 cases of the disease have been confirmed in the United States since it was first reported, and 1,765 people have died from the disease. Spread through the bite of mosquitoes, West Nile Virus also infects birds and other animals. There is an effective veterinary vaccine. No human vaccine, however, has yet been approved.

In preclinical studies, the test vaccine was effective at protecting mice against a lethal dose of the virus by eliciting an immune response that killed infected cells. The clinical trial will test the safety of the vaccine and its ability to produce an immune response in humans.

The investigational vaccine was developed with funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and NIAID will sponsor this trial at one of its Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units at Duke University in North Carolina. Enrollment is expected to be completed by December 2015. holds joint appointments with the Division of Neuroscience, ONPRC Department of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology at OHSU